Persephone, Goddess of Spring, Queen of the Underworld and Wife of Hades
Persephone, in Greek mythology the Goddess of Spring, daughter of Zeus and Demeter, Goddess of the Earth, Harvest, and Fertility, became also the wife of Hades and Queen of the Underworld. She was abducted by Hades, with the permission of Zeus, to be his wife. Demeter, in her anger and grief at the loss of her daughter, caused the Earth to be barren, the crops to fail, and winter to fall upon the earth.
That much most versions of the myth agree upon. Beyond that, however, are many plots and subplots, twists and turns, allowing for varying interpretations.
This seems like a good time to introduce Persephone in her role as Queen of the Underworld and wife of Hades. Although we are not yet officially in winter, here in the Northern Hemisphere we are in the dark, short days and long, cold nights, and rapidly approaching the Winter Solstice.
If a picture is worth a thousand words, it is nevertheless true that sometimes a few words can produce a thousand – well, maybe a few – images. Frequent readers here are aware of references to writer and fellow anthropologist, Jim Stallings, and his poem for “The Observer/The Observed.” Jim and I graduated from high school together, but were not aware of each other until a couple of years ago or that we both held a PhD in anthropology. We wouldn’t know each other walking down the street. But by virtue of the training in anthropology, we share a common vocabulary, even though our lives are otherwise quite different. We both are aware of the French structuralist Claude Levi-Strauss and the deconstruction of myth through binary oppositions. As a grad student, I wrote a paper, “A Structural Analysis of a White Mountain Apache Creation Myth.” While I did not use that much as an Ob/Gyn, that kind of knowledge sticks around and contributes to one’s view of the world and life. On September 15 of this year, Jim noted the approaching Autumn with “…it is that ancient mythic time for the daughter Persephone of the Earth Goddess Demeter to return to the Underworld and stay there until the return for Spring.”
As much as I hate to admit it, I was not familiar with Persephone. I had to go read. As I read more and more, however, her story resonated with me. Within a very short period of time I created three images from some of my favorite subjects, sunflowers and butterflies, that told a story of descent into darkness and emergence from it. Those images can be seen at the 2015 ANMPAS show opening on December 6 and running through December 28. I knew at that point that Persephone’s story was so rich and so complex that I wanted to tell her story through photography, with a real person (or persons), but it took me a bit to figure out how I wanted to do that.
In this image, you see Persephone with a pomegranate, held almost as a royal orb. The pomegranate plays a major supporting role in Persephone’s story, and is symbolic of many things. This will be explored in detail in future images posted here. By unplanned good luck, I had the opportunity to photograph many different pomegranates this fall, and they will be incorporated into some of the Persephone images. At the time I began photographing them, I wasn’t certain what I was going to do with them; I just knew I had to have them.
I began thinking about a photographic model for my Persephone. I had never hired a photographic model, although I had worked with a marvelous woman on someone else’s project. I kind of knew in my mind what I wanted, but I had no idea how to go about finding a photographer’s model that fit that description. Just like the pomegranates, the perfect model just sort of appeared at a time that was also perfect for a photographic session. I surprised myself by walking up and asking her if she had ever been a photographer’s model or would she consider being a photographer’s model. Also to my surprise, she said “yes.” She has the liquid eyes of the classic goddesses depicted in Renaissance paintings. She is athletic with well defined muscles. And she has attitude, an intangible so important in storytelling.
Many of you here may not be aware that I did a fair amount of maternity portraiture in the past. Even with those portraits, I liked to portray women as strong, and use red, not a typical choice for maternity portraits.
I had planned to photograph Kelly, “Persephone,” in black, but she requested some red as well. I had thought the black would be perfect for the time in the dark underworld. There are images in black, and you will see some of those. When I was doing maternity portraits, I always went with what the clients thought would be best for them. I now add, “trust your model” to things I have learned as a photographer.
This is an introduction to Persephone, and sets the stage for a coming series of images that explore that particular myth…and maybe more.
Pomegranate symbolism is found around the world and in many religions. In myth it has a kind of power not found in most fruits. A very nice summary, “Why a Pomegranate?” was published by the US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health. This article was written to explain why the pomegranate was chosen as the logo for the Millennium Festival of Medicine. The article contains a very good list of some of the world’s religions in which the pomegranate has significance:
Judaism – Pomegranate seeds are said to number 613—one for each of the Bible’s 613 commandments. The pomegranate was revered for the beauty of its shrub, flowers, and fruit—symbolising sanctity, fertility, and abundance. The Song of Solomon compares the cheeks of a bride behind her veil to the two halves of a pomegranate.
Buddhism – Along with the citrus and the peach, the pomegranate is one of the three blessed fruits. In Buddhist art the fruit represents the essence of favourable influences. In China the pomegranate is widely represented in ceramic art symbolising fertility, abundance, posterity, numerous and virtuous offspring, and a blessed future. A picture of a ripe open pomegranate is a popular wedding present.
Christianity – A symbol of resurrection and life everlasting in Christian art, the pomegranate is often found in devotional statues and paintings of the Virgin and Child.
Islam – Legend holds that each pomegranate contains one seed that has come down from paradise. Pomegranates have had a special role as a fertility symbol in weddings among the Bedouins of the Middle East. A fine specimen is secured and split open by the groom as he and his bride open the flap of their tent or enter the door of their house. Abundant seeds ensure that the couple who eat it will have many children.
The pomegranate is integral to the Persephone myth and its explanation of why the world has Winter. While many variations in the details of this myth abound, the referenced article gives a very good one:
In the Greek myth of Persephone’s abduction by Hades, lord of the underworld, the pomegranate represents life, regeneration, and marriage.1 One day while out gathering flowers, Persephone noticed a narcissus of exquisite beauty. As she bent down to pick it, the earth opened and Hades seized her and dragged her down to his kingdom. By eating a few pomegranate seeds, Persephone tied herself to Hades—the pomegranate being a symbol of the indissolubility of marriage. Inconsolable at the loss of her daughter, the corn goddess Demeter prevented the earth from bearing fruit unless she saw her daughter again. Zeus intervened and worked out a compromise: Persephone should live with Hades for one third of the year and the other two thirds with Demeter. Persephone’s return from the underworld each year is marked by the arrival of Spring.
Not only are there many variations in the myth, but it is full of plots and subplots, twists and turns. Some of you who are regular readers here know that my first visual work with the myth was a series involving sunflowers and butterflies.
When I finished that series of three images, I knew I wanted to visually explore many aspects of the myth, a myth in which I came to see Persephone in many ways as a mythic representation of Woman in general. Those were the aspects I especially wanted to explore and which you will see in coming images. Not only am I a woman, but much of my work in anthropology dealt with women, as, of course, did my work as an obstetrician/gynecologist. Photography has given me a means to express so many of my thoughts of life, especially life as a woman, in visual images that can be shared. First, here, I had to explain the symbolism and power of the pomegranate through time and space, so that future images are more meaningful.
I became familiar with the myth of Persephone through casual email correspondence with writer and fellow anthropologist, Jim Stallings. My mom grows pomegranates, and this fall I had the opportunity to photograph a lot of pomegranates! I knew I wanted the perfect model to portray my vision of Persephone, but had no idea how to find that perfect person. Life sometimes has a way of presenting unexpected opportunities, and in late October, the perfect person I had in mind appeared, and was willing to be my model for Persephone. You will see in the coming series of images how perfect and how beautiful she is, and how fortunate I have been to be able to work with her. You will be seeing Kelly Angerosa in the series already photographed, and hopefully in many more photographic projects in the future. Thank you for being such a delight to work with, Kelly.
Now that pomegranate symbolism has been introduced, the next several posts will concern Persephone in the myth and as Woman, presented visually.
Persephone’s dilemma: the pomegranate seeds. Many variations are found in different versions of the Persephone myth. All that I have seen so far agree that her father, Zeus, agreed to give her to his brother, Hades, without not just her consent but also without her knowledge. Just another example from the world’s literature of violence against women across time and space. That is how Persephone came to be in the Underworld in the first place: through the collusion of her father and uncle. Even I do not see how a young girl can fight that kind of strength against her. It is what it is, whether I like it or not. I cannot find a way in my mind to reinterpret that part of the myth.
After her mother, Demeter, in her grief and rage caused the Earth to go barren and be covered by Winter, Zeus worked out an agreement for Persephone to be allowed to return from the Underworld to Earth, bringing with her Spring and a return to life on the barren Earth. But, here is the hitch, at least for those of us who do not like Winter. While in the Underworld, Persephone had eaten some seeds of the pomegranate, binding her to her husband, Hades, with the requirement that she return to the Underworld for part of the year, during which time the Earth again experiences Winter. The time varies from three months to six months in different versions of the myth.
A major variation in different versions of the myth is how Persephone came to eat the pomegranate seeds in the first place. In some versions, she was tricked into it. In some versions she chose to eat the seeds, knowing full well the consequences. It was that variant that really got into my brain almost from the first day (September 15, 2015) I began to read the Persephone stories.
In my world, I do not see women as weak creatures who can be easily fooled. Over the years, studying copper miners’ wives as an anthropologist, or working with women as an obstetrican/gynecologist, I have seen women cope creatively and strongly with many different situations in which they found themselves, situations not of their own choosing. So, in my visual reinterpretation of the myth, I simply don’t buy that Persephone was tricked into eating the seeds.
Persephone had no choice initially about being in the Underworld with Hades. But in the various versions of the myth, she is not painted as being unhappy once she is there. Her mother, Demeter, is furious and grieving at the absence of her daughter, but that kind of feeling is not conveyed about Persephone, at least in the versions of the myth I have seen so far. In my visual painting of the myth, she chooses to eat the seeds, knowing she will be tied to Hades as wife, and that she will be required to spend part of her time in the Underworld. In some ways it actually reminds me a bit of Georgia O’Keeffe, who spent part of her time with her husband, and part of her time without him in New Mexico. I’ve always thought one of the better times in a former marriage was when we were commuting and seeing each other three days each month. It was very easy for me to see Persephone making the choice to eat the seeds.
Of course, in doing so, even though Demeter is the one who causes Winter to fall on the Earth, and that would never have happened if Zeus and Hades had not stolen her daughter (why don’t those two guys ever get blamed for Winter, anyway????????), it seems that in the end, Persephone bears much of the blame for Winter because she ate the seeds.
As I was thinking about that, and how I was going to present that visually, I couldn’t help thinking about another woman who brought grief to the world with another fruit, an apple: Eve and the Fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. BOOM! Thinking about those two together certainly got my brain going. Persephone and the pomegranate bring us Winter, and Eve and the apple got us kicked out of the Garden of Eden. I began to see things in terms of Woman, not just Persephone. Woman, blamed for all kinds of grief in the world. I decided to play with that visually.
Persephone weighing whether or not to eat the pomegranate seeds, knowing and accepting that she would be blamed for some human misery at Winter. This is Persephone’s dilemma:
Each Fall, she knew the time was approaching for her to return to the Underworld and we again see Persephone’s dilemma:
Persephone accepts responsibility for her choice. In today’s terminology, “she owns it.”
This myth presents such a rich tapestry to explore visually, and more chapters are to come. The next set will explore “what happens in the Underworld…” Stay tuned.
Persephone in the Underworld – how would you imagine it? I don’t mean when she was initially violently abducted from her beautiful springtime world on Earth by Hades, with the consent of her father, Zeus. I mean more when she returned year after year, as wife of Hades and Queen of the Underworld, at a time that would be Winter on Earth.
So many variations exist regarding that part of the myth that I felt free to pick anything I wanted. Some versions have Persephone despising Hades forever, but those are not the more common versions. Interestingly, many versions note that of the Greek god and goddess couples, they were the “most faithful” to one another, for whatever that is worth.
By most versions, Persephone and Hades did not have children together. Persephone had two, maybe three children, with two generally reported to be the result of rape by her father, Zeus. One more example of violence against women from world literature. It may be that ultimately her time in the Underworld with Hades in Winter, in the role of wife and Queen of the Underworld, was a welcome relief from wondering when and where her father would appear in her life on the beautiful Spring on Earth. Who knows?
Most note that she performed the entire range of her duties as Queen of the Underworld well.
So, was Persephone a beautiful trophy wife for Hades, but one in whom he had little to no interest beyond owning her once he had her? Did Persephone despise him every moment she was in the Underworld, counting every day until she could leave for the cyclic return to Earth? Did they fall into some kind of known routine, like old married couples, where they knew each other and what to expect, with a generally acceptable accommodation toward one another? Given artistic license, I’ve chosen to interpret the relationship through my imagination. And, at least in this post, I am not going to address her first Winter in the Underworld after he abduction by Hades. In this post I am looking more at her subsequent Winters, remembering that in earlier posts she chose to eat the pomegranate seeds, knowing she would be bound to Hades as his wife and required to return in a yearly cycle. The flip side of that coin is that she also knew she would have time each year on her own, as Goddess of Spring, with none of the duties of Queen of the Underworld. I said it in an earlier post, but I’ll say it again – I think of Georgia O’Keeffe’s marriage, and her time away on her own in New Mexico.
I have chosen to represent Persephone, after the first Winter in the Underworld, as in a fulfilling relationship with her husband, in the choice she made. (Call me Pollyanna.) These images are my representation of Persephone in the Underworld.
Winter solstice, the day with the least daylight hours in the year in the Northern Hemisphere, is December 22 this year. It also marks the “official” beginning of Winter. Even when I was young, it struck me that Solstice should actually mark the middle of Winter, although I will admit that weather-wise for me, the six weeks after Solstice are usually more wintry than the six weeks before. But, even by mid-January the increasing length of daylight is readily apparent. In my view of Light and Seasons, things would be so much more organized if Solstice marked the middle point of Winter.
So, just because I can, I chose to make Winter Solstice the halfway point in Persephone’s stay in the Underworld, whether her stay is 3 months, 4 months, or 6 months (different versions give different lengths of time).
Seasonal change is a major theme in the Persephone myth, the cycle of life, repeated over and over. I have had the opportunity this year to witness and photograph some remarkable celestial events. The Blood Red Total Lunar Eclipse of September 27, 2015 is one such event that I’ll not soon forget. In this image, the cyclic nature of seasonal changes is represented by different stages of that lunar eclipse, with the totality of the eclipse representing Solstice. The images from the eclipse are real and they are mine. The sequence from left to right is real. The way they are used here comes from my imagination.
In the dark days of Winter, it would not be unusual for thoughts to turn every now and then to a return to Light. That doesn’t mean those thoughts would be constant or overtake over all others. Just little flashes that occasionally cross the mind.
The Persephone of this picture story, at the Solstice, the halfway mark of her visit to the Underworld, has no regrets.
Every woman’s dilemma is not what I thought it would be when I began thinking about how I would photographically present parts of the myth of Persephone that I found particularly interesting. Many of the binary oppositions found in the great literature of the world are certainly present, even on the surface, of the Persephone myth: male-female, light-dark, good-bad, under-over, and I could, but won’t, go on and on. I thought that these that I have mentioned would be the over-riding issues in this photo essay. I have long been interested in how in human society there is a curious division of labor by sex not found in other mammals, a division of labor that gives men such power over women. Years ago I published my conclusions about that in the American Anthropologist in two papers, one of which looks at anatomy and one of which looks at physiology. The actions of Hades and Zeus certainly reflect male dominance over females in this myth. At the beginning, I expected that, which really is part of every woman’s dilemma, to be the major focus. The mind-body dichotomy as viewed by a woman and not imposed from the outside was not something I had given much thought prior to this.
From the very first day I began to read about Persephone, I was fascinated by the two major interpretations of how she came to eat pomegranate seeds, an act which required her cyclic return to the Underworld as the wife of Hades, during which time her mother, Demeter, in her grief and rage, caused the Earth to go barren and Winter to fall. In some versions, Hades tricked her into eating the pomegranate seeds, while in other versions she chose to eat them. Even before I gave much thought about how I would photograph that portion of the story, I knew the Persephone in my photographic storytelling would decide, by free will, to consume the seeds. It seemed so simple at the time: I found the truly perfect model to play Persephone, fresh pomegranates were in season in the store, and I had the opportunity to photograph many split pomegranates on my mom’s pomegranate plant.
The simplicity had disintegrated long before the scheduled photo shoot. If Persephone chose to eat the seeds, what, exactly, was her choice? I had already ruled out being tricked into it, so that was not an option. If there was no alternative, then it was not really a choice, at least as I envision choice. That realization somehow brought to mind all the women in the course of human history blamed for many things: Persephone’s eating of the seeds brings the pain of Winter (with apologies to readers who actually like winter), Eve got us kicked out of the Garden of Eden by partaking of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, often represented as an apple. By that time, I had read enough to understand that the pomegranate has had a very close connection throughout the world with fertility and sexuality, across major religions. Eve’s apple certainly has some degree of that, but even just on the face of it, I liked the contrast of fertility and implied sexuality versus knowledge. I realize that myth and literature purists may object to my combining Persephone and Eve in one photographic essay, but to me, it is almost like two faces of a coin, these two women blamed for so much misery in the world.
(Certainly other examples come to mind, such as widely found myths of vagina dentata, teeth in the vagina. I thought I would spare readers a photographic exploration of that one. Or how about the news report out of Kentucky this December, 2015, of a homeless shelter kicking out women and children because of the threat to men of “ungodly sex.” I couldn’t make that one up!!! A very powerful video, #Dear Daddy, begins with “Dear Daddy, I will be born a girl. Please do everything you can so that won’t stay the greatest danger of all.”)
At that point, the photo essay, although stimulated by the Persephone myth, morphed into something beyond that. I don’t apologize for that. That kind of thing happens with reading and thinking. The myth at the beginning grew into further exploration, exploration into what I came to see as every woman’s dilemma.
I did not have to explain anything to my wonderful model, Kelly Angerosa, about what I wanted to do. She saw the pomegranate and the apple on the table, and smiled. She knew instantly what I was asking of her. It was something that was there, an unspoken, unconscious recognition, a shared bond; it did not have to be explained.
It was not until I was well into processing the images and posting them here on the blog that I began to fully realize what I was doing and why I found it so exhausting. This photo essay is about a woman exploring her existence with both a mind and a body, a body not as defined by others (a topic for another time, and one I may never want to try to tackle), but as defined by her while still living in a world defined by others. And those two very important parts are compartmentalized in the myth, with her sexuality more or less confined to the Underworld in Winter in her role as wife of Hades, with her mind and knowledge not really important there. No wonder, really, I kept thinking of Georgia O’Keeffe’s marriage, with part of the time spent with Steiglitz and a great deal of the time spent in New Mexico doing as she pleased.
A question posed in a discussion on FB was, “Can a woman achieve fulfillment under the controlling mind of a dominant man?” The real question, of course, would be, “could anyone achieve fulfillment under the controlling mind of a dominant person?” and asked that way most people I know would answer, “NO! Of course not.” But, since human males feel entitled to be dominant, therein lies every woman’s dilemma. Georgia O’Keeffe found a solution, one which parallels that of Persephone: be with a partner part of the time, and free as a bird part of the time. That was the resolution of the dichotomy for O’Keeffe and Persephone.
It sounds so simple, once stated. But it took me a long time in working with the images to see exactly what I was saying with them, to see every woman’s dilemma as defining herself not only as a female body apart from society’s definition, which seems to be the overriding concern of human society, but also as a mind free to make choices not determined by a man (or, by another woman, for that matter!). That can be very difficult for many women; human society does not make that easy for women. In the end, this photo essay came to be about a woman making choices by her own free will.
I’ve really enjoyed working on what came out of this little segment of the Persephone myth. This post wraps up that segment. I am going to take a break from myth for awhile, and post on some less exhausting subjects. I hope you have enjoyed this photographic essay, my personal interpretation on a small part of the Persephone myth with many more plots and subplots.
Fire of Passion
Light of Knowledge
I Need Knowledge, Too
Why Must I Choose?
I Choose Both
Free as a Bird
Postscript to the Persephone Series and Every Woman’s Dilemma
Although I had four years of Latin in high school, during which time we studied Roman and Greek mythology, among other things, that was a very long time ago and there has been a lot of water under the bridge since. I became aware of the myth of Persephone on September 15 of this year, through a brief mention of it in an email in a comment on the upcoming autumn and winter by friend Jim Stallings (oh, no. Does the annoying woman get killed off in this short story?). Something about Persephone and her cyclic descent into the darkness of the Underworld resonated with me immediately.
Within two weeks I had done a series of images stimulated by the Persephone myth, using some of my favorite subjects, sunflowers and butterflies. For those of you in the Albuquerque area, those images are currently hanging in the 2015 ANMPAS show, which runs through December 27.
Once that photographic series was done, the thought of telling a story with a model began to seep into my brain. I had worked once with a model on someone else’s project. But I had never thought of finding and hiring a model to tell a story as I wanted to tell it. As these things sometime happen, the perfect model appeared almost by chance. I surprised myself by asking her if she would be a photographic model. This is far out of my range of what I comfortably do. Much to my surprise, she said, “Yes.” That was the beginning of my work with the wonderful Kelly Angerosa, the woman you see in these images. We have plans to work together again in the spring.
This series is something I was driven to do. I have many distractions and duties in my life at the moment, but I “had” to do this series. I often stayed up past midnight working on images, and there were times I was up again at 4:00 am because a thought occurred to me that I wanted to add. When the totality of my life at the moment is considered, I have been working as hard and as long as I did when I was a resident in Obstetrics and Gynecology. But this work came from an inner drive; I had to do it. It has been a long time since I felt so passionately about something. It may be the first time I felt so passionately about something. It really became, at least to me, the story of every woman’s dilemma, something I saw visually as a whole for the first time, although I had thought about the issues before as an anthropologist and also as an obstetrician/gynecologist.
This small piece is nearing completion. Within a day or two I will post as a separate page on the blog all of the images used in this series, with very little verbiage, so that they may be seen in totality. We are now in the dark days of winter, with the holidays, cold, and football playoffs 😉 approaching. I need a break. I look forward to the appearance of new things come spring.
I appreciate everyone who has followed along on this journey with me.
I especially thank my amazing model, Kelly Angerosa, who was everything I could have asked for and more, and Jim, who introduced me to Persephone.
Ten images from the Persephone series. I hope you enjoy them.
1. No Matter Which, I’ll Be Blamed
2. Power and Symbolism of the Pomegranate
3. My Fate, By Choice
4. Fire of Passion
5. Persephone, Queen of the Underworld
6. Turn, Turn, Turn
7. By My Choice
8. I Need Knowledge, Too
9. Why Must I Choose?
10. I Choose Both, Free as a Bird!
Persephone, in this series, represents an archetypal Woman resolving the Mind-Body dichotomy dilemma of human females, for herself and not as defined by Society. The dilemma is part of a collective unconscious expressed in many myths, and this series incorporates images from a variety of myths. Here, the pomegranate is symbolic for the feminine body and sexuality, while the apple, from the story of Eve and the Tree of Knowledge, is symbolic for the mind and feminine wisdom.
Humans have a unique division of labor by sex not found among other mammals. Although details vary cross-culturally, Society’s and societies’ definitions of Woman tend to keep them subservient, defining appropriate behavior for both the mind and body of women. In myth, women are often seen as the root cause of so much human misery. Persephone is at least partially blamed for Winter, because she ate the pomegranate seeds, requiring her return to the Underworld for part of the year (does anyone ever blame Hades or Zeus? No. Demeter, the mother, is given part of the blame, but never the guys who really caused the problem!). Eve, with the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge, is blamed for getting us all kicked out of Paradise, the Garden of Eden. The Mind-Body dichotomy, and its control in and by human society, has been a dilemma for women for ages. This series explores an archetypal Woman’s resolution of the dilemma for herself.
This series has special meaning to me for many reasons. One is that the images as composited contain so much of my world in Albuquerque: the split pomegranates I photographed for days in the fall; sunset over the Sandias; the many birds, all of which I love for one reason or another; the Blood Red Total Lunar Eclipse of September 27, 2015, a perfect day for viewing and photographing, and an event unlike any other I am likely to see again.
Model Kelly Angerosa and I have plans for new work in the spring, and I am looking forward to a new adventure. But I wanted to share in a slightly different way the images from what became a grand adventure in so many ways this past fall.
Those of you who are regular readers here have seen this work from the time it was barely an idea, now up to its presentation as a Kindle ebook.It is important to note that you do not have to have a Kindle to be able to view the book. Amazon offers free Kindle apps for desktops (PC and Mac), laptops, tablets, and smartphones (iOS and Android). In fact, since this ebook features images in color, I can view it better with an app on any of my devices other than my Kindle Paperwhite, which shows the images in black and white.
If you have followed the Persephone series as it developed here, you have already seen most of twelve images that are featured in the ebook. New text has been added: a discussion of myth, meaning, and various approaches to interpretation; a look at the mind-body dichotomy in human society; and some autobiographical references. From the Preface:
Persephone, Goddess of Spring and Queen of the Underworld in Greek mythology, became a truly fascinating mythological figure to me in 2015. I became determined, almost obsessed, as a photographer, to interpret a portion of her story. A complex myth, the part that initially captured my imagination involved Persephone’s cyclic descent into the Underworld and return to Earth each Spring.
Now that this small portion of the story is completed as a photographic series, I realize I was so driven to do the work because it presented an unexpected opportunity for me to synthesize much of my adult life – as a woman, as an anthropologist (PhD University of Arizona), as an obstetrician and gynecologist (MD University of Kansas, residency training University of New Mexico), and photographer (University of New Mexico).
As I worked with the images from what was intended to be a simple photoshoot, I began to realize that in many ways I was telling a story of an archetypal Woman, through one woman’s learning what it is to be female, in both body and mind. This is not a story about a woman learning to accept society’s or other’s definitions, but rather it is about a woman defining herself to herself, in her many complexities. Twelve images from the series are presented in this volume.
Myth, “the repository of the collective unconscious” – I learned to say that as an anthropologist. I learned what it meant as a photographic artist well into my mature years.
It is fitting that the portion of the myth involving Persephone’s cyclic descent into the Underworld and return to Earth, bringing Spring with her, consumed so much of my time during fall and winter. I first became aware of the myth on September 15 in casual email correspondence with friend Jim Stallings. By the end of September I had submitted for jurying three images inspired by the myth, using subjects well known to me: sunflowers and butterflies. All three were juried into 2015 ANMPAS (Annual New Mexico Photographic Art Show) and shown there in December:
I spent much of October photographing beautiful split pomegranates from my mother’s dwarf tree. I wasn’t really sure what I was going to do with all of those images; I just knew I had to photograph them.
By the end of October I began thinking of doing a series with a model. As a photographer, at one time I had done maternity portraits. And, once I had worked with someone else’s model on that person’s project. But, I myself had never chosen and hired a model. I really had no idea how I was going to do that. But, on October 30, the perfect person just sort of appeared. The following day I surprised myself by walking up and asking her if she had ever been a photographer’s model or if she would ever consider being a photographer’s model. Almost as much to my surprise, she said that although she had not done that before, she would be willing to do it.
Kelly Angerosa and I did the photoshoot on November 12, 2015. I spent the next two months consumed with processing the images to say exactly what I wanted them to say, getting the images out for review, and then writing this explanation and meaning of the project as a Kindle ebook.
While there is still some work to do on this series, it seems fitting that, while we will still have some very wintry, cold, windy days, the lengthening light with its hope of spring can be both seen and felt. Work is winding down on this series as spring approaches. Thoughts are turning to a new photoshoot with Kelly and a new emphasis in the spring.
I hope you’ll take the time to click on the Preview (above) and consider sharing your thoughts. To those of you who have been through this saga with me, Thank You!
2016 Moscow International Foto Awards – Honorable Mention for Persephone’s Choice: Every Woman’s Dilemma
Many thanks to the jurors of the 2016 Moscow International Foto Awards (MIFA) for the recognition of the Portfolio entry in Fine Art Collage of “Persephone’s Choice: Every Woman’s Dilemma” with the award of Honorable Mention. This is a wonderful honor for this series, which has so much personal meaning to me. It was produced with a lot of blood, sweat, and tears; and also a lot of joy!
An award for the entire series is icing on the cake for me. Creating the series after a brief mention of Persephone in an email last September 15, through thinking about what I wanted to do and why, finding the perfect model for my vision, then photographing and editing…those were the easy parts. Working through the editing at times was like a painful visit to a shrink. That was a huge surprise to me. Was it worth it? Yes. Will I do another series project like it? Not soon.
One image from the series has been especially well received.
“My Fate, By Choice” was juried into the 2016 Insight New Mexico Show earlier this year; was a winner in the 2015 Red Dog News Color It Red competition, and will be shown in Berlin in October, 2016.
Again, I thank the jurors of the Moscow International Foto Awards for the award for this series.
Persephone at Berlin Foto Biennale 2016 and 4th Biennial of Fine Art & Documentary Photography
Persephone at Berlin Foto Biennale 2016 is something those of you who also read on Face Book know about, but many of you who are loyal readers here may not know about. The show runs in Berlin, Germany from October 6 -30, 2016, at the Palazzo Italia
“My Fate, By Choice,” from the series, “Persephone’s Choice: Every Woman’s Dilemma” is my image for this large photography show. “Emotions and Commotions” is the show theme.
I was surprised when I received an invitation right after Christmas to participate. I did not remember entering any competitions that would qualify for this exhibition. But, I checked my records and followed the links. I had indeed entered some things in January 2015, right after I got back from Texas to be with my son. Brain fog consumed me at that point. I am surprised I entered things at all.
Almost as surprising to me was the variety of the three images invited to be exhibited.
The Three Invited Images
Many of you here are familiar with “The Road Less Traveled.” This is in the Rio Grande Valley a little south of Albuquerque. It was a serendipitous view discovered when I missed the turn, and after driving for a bit, turned around to see if I could find the correct turn. This view appeared when I turned around. The trip was one of the “photographic excursions” on the birthday Tim Price and I share. The photograph has special meaning.
This floral is certainly typical of my florals. As such, I was very pleased to be invited to show it in Berlin.
The third invited image surprised me a lot! Photographers know their work, even when people take the images, cut off the watermarks, and try to cram them into nodes with different aspect ratios. We see it, we frame it, we snap it, we process it. When I saw the third invited image, I thought “oh, that must be mislabeled and belong to someone else.” It certainly is not typical for me. After looking at it for a bit, I realized I made the photograph as part of a workshop taught by LeRoy Perea and Dennis Chamberlain. I hope they are pleased that an image from that workshop was selected to be shown in Berlin.
This is a tee shirt display at a flea market. Most of the images are of Marilyn Monroe, with a distinct New Mexico twist. There is Day of the Dead Marilyn, a variety of Our Lady of Guadalupe Marilyns, and a couple of her famous poses not given New Mexico flavor. I think the choice of this image speaks to the universal appeal of Marilyn Monroe.
In 2012, I had displayed three images at the 2nd Biennial of Fine Art & Documentary Photography, held that year in Buenos Aires, Argentina. I thought about that show, and I thought about these three new images chosen for the 2016 show. At the time the invitation came, I was still working on processing and interpreting the Persephone images. I knew that work was different from anything I had done before. That was the work I wanted to show in Berlin, and this was the one image I wanted to show: Persephone at Berlin Foto Biennale 2016.
The curators were very helpful when I explained what I would like to do. I’m really delighted and honored to have the opportunity to show this image in Berlin in the 4th Biennial of Fine Art and Documentary Photography.
By the end of May all the details that had to be taken care of at my end for Persephone at Berlin Foto Biennale 2016 were done.
The Steve McCurry Controversy
Some of you may know Steve McCurry as the photographer of “Afghan Girl,” a National Geographic cover. He is an extremely well known photographer. Kodak gave him the last roll of Kodachrome produced, because the company thought he would make good use of it.
In the spring of 2016, he became embroiled in something of a scandal when it was discovered he had photoshopped not only one but several images. Photographic artists make extensive use of photo editing and photo enhancing, photojournalists do not. Sometimes a thin line separates the two.
I did not know until sometime in August that part of this show would be a Retrospective by Steve McCurry. Additionally, he will be giving the dinner speech and participating in some of the press conferences. I personally doubt he would be participating to this extent without the controversy, but it works for me. It should be a well attended show.